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How to Setup a Home Woodworking Shop

#1 - What Do You Need From Your Workshop?

For the moment don’t look at your available workshop space as that’s more than likely not going to change.  Focus instead on how you’ll plan to use the space – from projects, tools, and demands of the space for lighting and heat.

What Projects Will I Focus on in my Workshop?

Take a few minutes and on the left hand side of a piece of paper write down what projects you’ll plan to build over the short and medium term:

  • Cabinetry
  • Shelves
  • Wooden toys
  • Turning pens
  • Carvings
  • etc…

What Are My Top 10 Tools for the Workshop?

Now on the right hand side of the paper list out what you think will be the most used tools for these projects.  Keep in mind you may not own these yet, and sticking to tools that will take floor space or have significant storage needs is fine:

  • Table saw
  • Lathe
  • Drum sander
  • Router table / Shaper
  • Miter box
  • HVLP sprayer
  • Dust collector
  • Air compressor
  • Pipe clamps
  • etc..

Well I knew that – now what?  Start with prioritizing your projects based on what you’ll build most; and then do the same with your tools (by frequency of use).  You can see I build cabinets and chose the miter saw as it’s central to my workshop and I use it for just about everything.  It’s always ready to go.

How Big are My Tools & What Storage Will I Need?

A key requirement is as simple as just how big is everything?  Measure height, width, stand base dimensions (for roller base consideration), fold dimensions vs. in-use, etc. of everything.  Capture these in a listing.  We’ll use these to layout the shop later.  

Don’t have a few of the tools yet?  Head over to Amazon or Rockler and check out what tools you think you’ll be buying.  Error on larger vs. smaller.

Approximate your small hand tools as well.  One trick is just lay them out on a bench or floor as if you were going to hang them on pegboard.  Measure how much space you’ll need in height and width.  Do the same with any tools like biscuit joiners that are in hard plastic cases and how much shelf space they’ll need.  Count how many pipe clamps you have (or will have) and their stored size (and lengths).

Working Space: Accommodating Plywood & Hardwood

This is a little bit trickier, but still important.  For each of your tools think thru how much space you will need around it for adequate working space.  The table saw is the classic space hog – for ripping and cross-cutting plywood and long boards it can take up to 12′ on the in-feed and out-feed and 8′ to the left of the fence and 5′ to the right of the fence (a whooping 24’x13′ space overall).  Some key tools to consider:

What Else Will I Need in my Home Woodworking Shop?

This gets a bit trickier and isn’t just about what you’ll use – but instead focus on the environment of what you’ll be building in:

  • Access to adequate power for multiple large tools (multiple 15-20amp circuits)
  • Adequate lighting
  • Dust collection
  • Storage for hardwood and plywood
  • Heating & cooling based on your climate
  • Air compressor supply lines
  • Exterior doors for bringing in supplies and carrying out finished goods
  • Fans & ventilation
  • Tool mobility
  • Benches
Planning a remodel of the space prior to finishing?  Then stepping back and thinking of the finished shop and how you will use every aspect will help now.

#2 - Design and Set Your Workshop Budget

For your home woodworking shop setup the design is most important.  Now that you have your requirements in hand from step #1 you can focus on the space.  Smaller spaces are more complex to design as you’ll need to consider portability over fixed layouts.  Larger spaces may condense over time as unforeseen future purchases (a boat – in my case!) demand space.  Be thoughtful in this phase!

Start by taking a piece of graph paper and marking out your available space in 1′ increments.  For most spaces this should easily fit on a single 8×11 piece of graph paper.   

If you have a three stall garage and can dedicated one stall to always be available go ahead and mark that off.  If you can’t have benches on the other walls so you can park cars then block those areas off. 

Decision Time: What Must Stay in One Place?

Surprisingly this may be very few things.

Benches, saws, air compressors and even shelving can all be made mobile.  Practically, though, this is tough to do.  Take a look at all of your tools, factor in what you’ll use most often, and prioritize what should be non-mobile and ready to use.  Note those on your draft design.

Tip:  Look at wall mounted options!  The dust collector is one potential – it should be piped to many spots in almost in workshop.  To avoid taking up floorspace consider how it can be raised off the workshop floor and mounted.

Portable Tools: What Can I Lift vs. What Needs Wheels?

Now that you’ve picked what can stay in one place – identify what’s going to be mobile and be moved during your projects and/or stored in a place requiring mobility.  Consider weight of the tools, how often the tools will be mobile vs fixed and what the overall cost will be of mobilizing everything.  Check out Rockler mobile bases and this #1500 pound Bora Portamate to start.  Costs range from $50-150.  Be sure to look at locking mechanism and adjustment of the “down position” foot pad.  I’ve found that to be the #1 issue for me.

Design Benches and Shelving

Bench design is an entire book!  Design options are endless.  You can easily make them yourself, but if it’s above your skill level there are options for pre-made cabinets to get your started.  

If your needs are basic take a look at a relatively inexpensive rack for less than 100 board feet of stored lumber.  Hang it about 52″ off the ground to the lowest rack and you’ll have space underneath for your plywood (off the floor on a 1×6!).   

Finish The Design & Test Out The Layout

You now have enough information to complete your layout either on a piece of graph paper or physically in the workshop.  A mix of both will do – and a physical layout if you already own the tools will be best.

Tip:  Buy a sheet of 4×8 pegboard and manipulate it around your table saw as if you were making cuts.  That will ensure you have enough physical space as you look at in-feed/out-feed and space to the left of the saw.

Set Your Budget

Using your list of tools identify what you’ll need.  Do the same for your work benches, shelving, mobile bases, etc.  Add 20% to your “wants” and use that to set what you can buy now vs. later.

Make sure to consider eBay and Craigslist in your quest for tools – there are a number of slightly used tools available for a significant discount vs. new.

Take a look at these suppliers as you look at tool and storage solutions:

#3 - Build Time!

Not much to say here – it’s time to start sawing, buying, assembling to create your home woodworking shop.  

Planning to make money from your workshop?  Fixed space used for your projects (consult your tax advisor) can qualify as part of a tax credit.  

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Disclaimer: DIY projects can be dangerous, hire a professional (link to Home Advisor) if unsure.